Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “We support a woman’s right to choose, but that doesn’t mean we think abortion is a good thing. We want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, so we prefer to find ways to reduce women’s need for abortion.”
It’s a neat, tidy bit of rhetoric that enables pro-choicers to distance themselves from the injustice of abortion while simultaneously spinning policies like forced contraception coverage as somehow pro-life. It doesn’t hold up too well under logical scrutiny—if abortion isn’t the taking of an innocent life, then who cares how rare it is?—but on the whole, it’s been a useful propaganda tool.
However, over the weekend New York Times columnist Ross Douthat took a look at how well the “safe, legal, and rare” strategy has worked out. His conclusion? It hasn’t:
To begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. There’s no crisis of birth control access in this country; it’s widely available and relatively inexpensive. And yet, birth control isn’t 100% effective, and many simply choose not to use it. For the overwhelming majority of cases, abortion is truly elective in every sense of the word.
Douthat also discovered that, wonder of wonders, pro-choice states fail to prevent either the need or the practice of abortion:
[A]bortion rates are frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to deliver the “rare” part.
What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance, has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian abortion rate is more than twice as high.
Granted, Douthat also writes that “many other socially conservative regions (particularly in the South) feature higher rates of unwed and teenage parenthood than in the country as a whole,” which he attributes to the relative rarity of sufficient “social cohesion, religious intensity and shared values” to guarantee a “successful chastity-centric culture.” But while pro-aborts will likely scoff at how this proves the folly of the pro-life, values-based approach, it’s worth noting that several studies have found that abstinence-focused education does work. Gee, who would have thought that being honest with students about actions having consequences and teaching them to avoid those consequences through responsible behavior would work better than assuming at the outset that teens are incapable of self-control?
“Safe, legal, and rare” isn’t a serious, heartfelt position. It’s nothing more than a cheap slogan meant to make pro-abortion politicians and activists, who aren’t particularly troubled by teen promiscuity, let alone abortion, seem more reasonable and humane as they fight for what really maters to them: the right to destroy innocent babies for convenience.